1 Kings 19:1-3 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
None of us are immune to discouragement. In fact, some of the greatest men in the Bible found themselves in times of discouragement, despair, and even doubt. Elijah had just stood up and called out the king. He had challenged 400 prophets and their false god to a duel. He destroyed the men with a sword after he emerged victorious (by calling down fire from heaven). He experienced a mini revival among the multitude of people. Yet in this passage, we find a discouraged, despondent, and almost suicidal prophet.
What then, can we do, to keep going when discouragement rears its ugly head? First, let’s see why Elijah was discouraged.
Why was Elijah Discouraged?
For three years, Elijah lived as a homeless prophet by the riverbed. But events had changed. He preached again. He called down fire. He was victorious. The people responded. Elijah called down rain (after a three year famine). And finally, Elijah could go back into the city. His adrenaline was pumping, and the Spirit of God Himself carried him so fast that he outran the king and his horse in a footrace! But his expectations were let down immediately. Instead of a welcoming committee, he was met with a death threat. “By tomorrow at this time, we're going to kill you.” He found himself in the same rut he had been in for the past three years.
When I think of "unfulfilled expectations", I think of the year 2020. Think of the churches, businesses, and individuals whose motto for the year was "2020 vision", or whose plans and expectations for the year have been thrown for a spin. If this was the NCAA bracket challenge, none of us made it past the second round with our projections for the year. Life is full of unfulfilled expectations: a rebellious child, sickness, a relationship gone wrong, financial difficulty, or failure in business, family, or personal venture. It's a part of life, and can cause discouragement.
Elijah was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. He ran up a mountain. He outran a horse down a mountain. He slew 400 prophets. He preached. He ran for his life. It was "one of those seasons". Many times, great men's biggest discouragements or depressions come after big victories, because at that point they are totally spent. Once Elijah fled and was alone, he fell dead asleep under a tree. There are times in life when we experience exhaustion and fatigue due to life itself happening. We look at the hardness of past months, and then at our current condition, and wonder if this will ever end. We wonder if the illness, the relationship, the difficulty, the lack of sleep, the uncertainty, will ever end. If not careful, a natural byproduct is discouragement.
Elijah told the Lord one reason he wanted to die was because of the state of the country and people around him. They had forsaken the Lord, but they went a step further; they were now antagonistic toward the things of God. Does this not seem like the culture in which we find ourselves? We are a country that has forsaken the Lord. And further, mainstream culture is antagonistic toward those who love the Lord and believe the Bible. If we watch the news, listen to the pundits, and even follow mainstream Christianity, it can be discouraging!
Elijah got to believing that he was the only one left who loved and served the Lord in the whole country. He thought he was the only one who had not compromised. He thought he was the only one left, and there was no hope for the future. I'm sure we've had times where we feel like we're the only ones. We're alone in this. There's no one like me. There's no one that understands. There's no one that has the same values, standards, hardships. This can cause discouragement.
Where did Elijah find encouragement to go forward?
1 Kings 19:13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
The greatest way to be encouraged, to get instruction for life, to get back to what we ought to be doing, is to hear from God. In the midst of uncertain times, we must get into God's Book and listen for His voice!
1 Kings 19:5-7 And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.
This doesn't sound spiritual, but Scripture tells us that we are three-part beings: body, soul, and spirit. One-third of our being is physical and has physical needs. Pastor Goddard says, "We are organic beings." Even recently, I've seen the spiritual effects that physical exhaustion has on an individual. Many times my dad would tell a couple, "go get a good night's rest, and we'll talk in the morning." I'm not talking about binge-sleeping off your discouragement. But sometimes a good night's rest, or short time away will do us well.
1 Kings 19:18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
God showed Elijah that he was not alone. There were 7,000 men left who loved Him, who faced the same pressures and culture that Elijah faced, and who could relate with him. Likewise, we're not alone in this life. I'm thankful for our church, and churches like us, where we can find encouragement and fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters. This is why church and fellowship are so important!
1 Kings 19:15-16 And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
When discouragement reveals bleakness in the present, a great exercise is to look to the brightness of the future. The Lord got Elijah looking away from the present circumstances, and to the work of the future. There was a king to be anointed. There was a next generation to train. There was a work to do, and Elijah needed to get back at it. Remember, with the Lord, the future is bright!
We all go through times of discouragement. When we do, let's prioritize our relationship with God. We may need to get some rest, or as Jesus said, "come apart". We may need to allow God to fix our perspective. And finally, let us look to the future as it is bright with the Lord. I pray these truths help. God bless.
We are to be an example not only to the believer but also to the non-believer.
Believing without seeing, taking God at His Word, having confidence in God.